There exists in Thunder Bay a massive socioeconomic stratification

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THUNDER BAY – Reader’s Ledger – There exists in Thunder Bay a massive socioeconomic stratification that pits economically disadvantaged people against economically advantaged people. The economically disadvantaged people are the ones most affected by intergenerational social problems. They are, in large part, First Nations people and you can blame residential schools for that. But I emphasize that they are not ALL First Nations people. A low-income Caucasian person is likely to have the same social problems as a low-income First Nations person. The economically advantaged people, at least in this community, are mostly Caucasians. These people are mostly unaffected by intergenerational social problems. Again, I emphasize that they are not ALL Caucasians. This group includes successful and inspirational First Nations people who became professionals and community leaders despite the odds stacked against them.

An average Thunder Bayer looks at this situation and then makes the sweeping generalization that all or most of the crime is committed by First Nations people because of “social problems”. The implication is that First Nations people have some sort of inherent quality that pre-disposes them to commit crime, but if First Nations and non-First Nations alike face the same “social problems”, why isn’t the problem as prevalent among the other races? Are First Nations people just less able to cope than the other races? Of course not. The other races just haven’t had their own “residential schools” to exacerbate the problem.

It doesn’t matter what race you are, if you have parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or gambling, or if you grew up in destitute poverty, or if you are adversely affected by unemployment due to a lack of education, or suffered traumatic personal experiences, or are even an addict yourself, you will suffer social problems that will inevitably be passed down to the next generation in an endlessly repeating cycle. That isn’t to take away from the many success stories of people who have been able to break the cycle despite the overwhelming odds against them, but it is undeniable this is almost always the case.

The result is the generalized view that all or most Aboriginals commit crime because of some unique trait that pre-disposes them to it and that all or most non-Aboriginals are relatively free of these social problems. This view also facilitates the racism that victimizes Aboriginals in this community on a daily basis. The problem is not an Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal affair, but an economically-advantaged versus economically-disadvantaged ordeal. Those who view the problem along racial lines may or may not have good intentions, but they are definitely wrong-headed in their analysis.

People who are economically disadvantaged need help to claw their way out of poverty and fight their personal demons. The focus should be on giving them the help they need to become productive members of society, no matter what race they are, not making pointless assertions that all or most crime is committed by Aboriginals because of some unspoken-of inherent trait.

I believe the solution involves the economic empowerment of EVERYONE. This involves eliminating poverty by providing adequate housing and water systems on far northern reserves, making education more accessible for all, preserving Aboriginal culture, social integration between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, greater support for low-income housing in Thunder Bay, detox and mental health facilities, and programs to establish pathways for troubled youth to escape a life of crime.

Not more prisons, not mandatory minimums, not stiffer sentences, and definitely not more Waterfront “art”. We cannot make economically disadvantaged people into productive members of society if we keep tossing them in jail and balk at the rising crime and related costs. This only exacerbates the problem. A revolving door is created where those who commit crimes are simply the fish the police play “catch-and-release” with. It’s an expensive system that wastes taxpayer dollars and ruins lives and increases crime.

Curfews don’t heal traumatic experiences. Mandatory minimums don’t cure destitute poverty. Stiffer sentences do not cure addictions to drugs and alcohol. Waterfront “art” doesn’t give a poor person a place to sleep at night.

I propose the following specific solutions:

1) A housing strategy jointly-funded by the federal and provincial governments to establish housing on far northern fly-in reserves. Though First Nations are the responsibility of the federal government, the province ends up bearing a lion’s share of the costs stemming from the social problems created by destitute poverty. It is economically and morally within their interests to jointly fund such a project.

2) A jointly-funded program between the federal and provincial governments to provide adequate running water and sewage in far northern communities, as well as reducing reliance on diesel generators and providing more green energy.

3) A Thunder Bay housing strategy where the City provides more low-income housing to citizens, especially the homeless. Such a housing complex would provide excellent grounds for a mental health and detox facility that could provide centralized services and give incentives to get help. The City could have easily cut from the Waterfront project to fund this.

4) Greater social integration between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, especially with youth, not only within Thunder Bay, but with northern reserves as well. Kids in lower grades can have pen pals on northern reserves. This would be an effort at reducing racism, give kids insight into each others lives, and work on their reading and writing skills. Within Thunder Bay, kids can attend pow-wows and smudgings. Elders can be brought into classrooms to tell stories and kids can learn about Aboriginal culture. Inversely, Aboriginal kids can learn about the different (mainly European) cultures in the city.

5) A program to provide employment to those who are released from jail for non-violent offences. Possible employers could be the MNR to provide training to become forest firefighters or small local businesses.

Crime is inevitable when we have social problems and social problems inhibit our prosperity. We are a more moral and prosperous society when we take care of those who are at the greatest disadvantage, address inequalities, and economically and politically empower those who are on the bottom rungs. Will there be a short term cost? Of course. But the long term payout is more than worth it. Our stratified city needs to be fused together. It won’t be easy, but it needs to be done.

Kyle Pereira